Author’s note for “The Chasm and the Collision”

CatC cover paperback

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The Chasm and the Collision is my currently published novel that has the most recent—and what might be thought inauspicious—origins.  I came up with the idea for it while I was an involuntary resident of Gun Club Road, a period lasting eight months.  It was a longer stretch of enforced restriction from most of the sources of intellectual stimulation to which I was used than I think I’ve experienced either before or since.

During that time, thanks to the help of my ex-wife, I was able to keep in contact with my children by calling them two days a week—though the calls were restricted to fifteen minutes at a time, and this was disheartening (though positively luxurious compared to my current interactions).  My children were around eleven and twelve at the time, my son just entering middle school and my daughter in the latter year or so of elementary school.

Over the course of the previous decade and a half, I’d steadily devoured the Harry Potter books, and my own lifelong love and dream of writing was rekindled.  I found myself suddenly in a situation where I couldn’t practice medicine, a pursuit that had taken up most of my time for the preceding decade and a half, and which doesn’t tend to leave much free time or energy in its wake.  Though distressing and depressing, my new “freedom” allowed me to consider other ideas.  (I had already toyed with writing again, and had thought of creating the manga version of Mark Red, when I had taken some time off due to temporary disability.)

My children hadn’t yet begun seriously reading the Harry Potter books, but they had seen and enjoyed the movies, and were also enamored of other fantastic literature of many kinds, as young readers tend to be.  I thought of writing such a book of my own.  This was not a new idea, obviously; it was one I had considered for most of my life, and I had indeed written two such novels previously, neither of which had been published.  Now, though, I wanted to write such a book with my kids in mind, and since they were both either in or about to be in middle school, I wanted a story with middle school students as the protagonists.

I don’t recall exactly how the deeper and broader ideas of the book presented themselves, or in what order, but the notion of the fruit, which begins the heroes’ engagement with the world next to ours, was present early on, as was the notion of the terrifying creatures who came to be known as gowstrin, and the city/mountain floating over the edge of an endless cliff.  I know this because I had access to a few colored pencils while in Gun Club, and I drew a few pictures of the ideas I had developed.  The drawings included one of the fruit itself, one of the city that I came to call Burdock Tamis, and the third was a picture of a gowstrin (these names didn’t come until years later).  I sent these drawings to my son and daughter, and they gave their seal of approval, especially of the very creepy-looking gowstrin.

I don’t remember whether I started writing any of the book at that time, or if the creation of those first few chapters waited for the lengthy interval when I was out of Gun Club, but before I was in FSP West.  I do know, though, that sometime during my time on bond, I wrote the first two chapters, which later were merged into one, with the notion that I would publish them serially for purchase in e-book format (I continued to toy with this idea for some time, before finding it simply unworkable).  I forwarded those chapters to my children, among other people, and was pleased by my son’s report that Chapter 2, in which a gowstrin flies over Alex’s house the first night after he eats the fruit, was quite scary.  This was exactly what it was supposed to be.

Then, the story, and most others, lay fallow, only to be resurrected once I was a long-term guest of the Florida DOC.  That was when I decided, to keep myself sane, to make the most of a bad situation, and to pursue my oldest dream, that I would begin writing novels seriously.  A friend in FSP West had recently been sent a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing, which I borrowed and read twice in quick succession, and which inspired me to develop a ruthless regimen of writing three or four pages every morning at about three-thirty, when lights first came on.

I’ve written elsewhere about how I decided to complete Mark Red first, to hone my skills before undertaking the novel that was dedicated, most profoundly, to my children, and how Paradox City fell into the time gap after I had finished Mark Red and while I awaited the early chapters of The Chasm and the Collision.  Once those arrived, however, I was off to the races, and didn’t finish until about a quarter of a million words later.

I’ll make a digression here about some of the names in the book.  Most, obviously, have nothing to do with anything in the real world.  But a few have interesting enough (to me at least) origins to bear description.  First and foremost is the name of my protagonist, Alex.  At the time that I wrote CatC, my son was far more interested in such stories than my daughter, so I wanted to give him a special homage.  Long before I was even married, I had the idea of naming a son Alexander Phillip, after Alexander the Great and his father, Phillip of Macedon.  This may seem a little pretentious, but when I was young I was intrigued and inspired by the story of Alexander, and the idea that his father had been the real force behind the conqueror he became.  It seemed a nice notion to name my own child after both of them, since I hoped to give my offspring similar capabilities as less literal conquerors.

Then, finally, the name choice was rejected because, as my wife correctly pointed out to me, such a child’s initials would be APE.  Not that this is inherently insulting—humans really are apes, after all, biologically speaking—but it could certainly leave one open for ridicule, and in any case, my wife was pretty firmly against it.  I took very little convincing.  Now, though, in naming the main character of a story directed specifically to my son and daughter, it seemed both appropriate and auspicious to use the name, and Alex Hinton was born.  (His last name was taken from that of the novelist S.E. Hinton, to whose works my wife introduced me, as books she found moving in her younger years…thus, the main character of CatC also contains a worthy homage to my by-then-ex-wife.)

The names of two characters in The Chasm and the Collision owe themselves to people I knew at FSP West, both inmates.  One was Freman, and he not only looks but acts like his real-world counterpart (whose name is spelled in more typical Earth fashion).  He was one of two people who asked, quite earnestly, to be a character in my books*, and I was happy to include him—as you can tell from reading the novel, he was a pretty good guy, despite the circumstances in which we met.

The other person’s name has a more indirect origin, but she is a pivotal character, perhaps the most pivotal one.  Of course, I mean Peetry.  I hadn’t decided whether the person who stole the fruit and left it in Alex’s house would be male or female at first, but I had decided early on that this person would be thin and high-strung—partly because of the person’s deeds and their consequences, but also as something of an inherent tendency.  Well, an inmate I briefly knew at FSP West was so perfectly described by those adjectives that I couldn’t help but think that he would make a great model for the character at some level.  His last name was Stone.  Well, I wasn’t going to name anyone from Osmeer “Stone,” but with a little bit of twisted Hellenization, it was easy enough to change into Peetry.  The character in the book, though, has few other aspects in common with her real-life namesake; most glaringly, I soon realized that Peetry was, in fact, a young woman, not a man, and when push came to shove, she is a much more capable and impressive person than the hapless youth after whom she was named.  In fact, I don’t recognize much of any left-over resemblance between the two, now that I know Peetry well, other than the fact that her name had its particular origin.  Still, it’s fun to think about.

I could probably go on and on for hours about The Chasm and the Collision, and not easily exhaust all that I have to say, and I’ve already written much about it elsewhere on my blog.  I will note that, although CatC was the second novel I completed, I waited quite a while to publish it.  Partly this is due to its length, but mostly it was for similar reasons to why I waited to start writing it:  I wanted my skills honed and improved before I turned them to this, the most personally important of the books that I have written—though I don’t even know whether either of my children has actually read it.

It turns out that, although it’s a story about middle-schoolers, and does not contain a single curse word, CatC isn’t really a book for middle-schoolers.  It’s long, for one thing, though that’s not usually an obstacle for an avid middle-school aged reader; it certainly never was for me.  It’s also a bit dark in overall implications (though, as the Harry Potter books have demonstrated, this is also not an impediment).  Though there is much lightheartedness in the interplay between characters, the scale of the danger (inspired, as was much of the setting of the story, by my readings about M Theory), the horror of the Other, and the torture and control inflicted on the minds of such people as Inslic, and the poor Gardener Nonben, and the gowstrin themselves, as well as the deliberately pointless death of one of my favorite characters, make it perhaps a bit intense for some younger readers.  Still, I’m hugely proud of the world I created in Osmeer, particularly of the tixuns, the craddol, the orcterlolets, and in a place of dark honor, the gowstrin.

I’m sure I’ll write and say more about this book in the future, but for now, I’ll leave it.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this note, and I hope you enjoy the book.

*The other became a character in Mark Red.  A guy who came from Gun Club to FSP with me asked to be made a character in my book, and to please be allowed to save the day at some point.  His alter ego in Mark Red is a nearly literal reproduction, right down to name and nickname, of his real self…and save the day he does!

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